Establishing lasting peace is the work of education. – Maria Montessori
“When children move on from Walnut Park Montessori, they are confident, independent learners, capable of focused concentration, a sense of order, critical and creative thinking, and a capacity for peaceful conflict resolution,” says interim Head of School Stephanie Marcucci. They have a solid academic grounding, a global vision, and a sense of personal, shared, and environmental responsibility. Most importantly, the children at Walnut Park take away ground rules for life: “Be Kind, Be Peaceful, Be Respectful.”
Walking through the doors of Walnut Park one is immediately surrounded by a bright, serene, and ordered environment. Children arrive at a classroom “circle” often with music such a “Pachelbel’s Canon” playing softly in the background. It is time to sing the “Hello” song, a rhythmical tune that invites a clapping of hands. It is sung repeatedly, each time with “hello” replaced by the same greeting drawn from the many different languages children and faculty use in their homes. A new journey of child-driven learning begins.
Walnut Park parents and prospective parents were invited on a “Silent Journey” one Saturday morning in October to get a “brief glimpse and hands-on experience to envision what the children do each day,” explains Marcucci. A Montessori teacher since 2000, Marcucci seamlessly moved into her new position in fall 2018. “Montessori teachers are guides. Rather than instructing children as to what to do with the Montessori materials, teachers help by role modeling, guiding discovery and exploration, and encouraging a purposeful activity.”
The Silent Journey took parents to different rooms to examine materials and collections on carefully arranged and organized shelves. Rooms are divided into dedicated spaces: geography, mathematics, art, library, reading, science, language, everyday living, and sensorial. Children pull out sequentially arranged work trays, books, geometric shapes – didactic materials to begin a work at colorful Lilliputian tables and chairs or on a rug or a mat they unroll on a chosen spot.
“The beauty of Montessori materials is that they are deliberately designed for multiple stages of learning,” says eleven-year lead-teacher Maureen Fico. “A three-year old approaches a set of materials very differently than that of a five-year old. Visual and kinesthetic learners in these multi-age classrooms travel at their own pace of skill and comfort levels and are mentored by older children who in turn take great pride in their leadership skills.”
Fico notes that the classrooms belong to the children and each child is responsible for a specific room duty, such as putting a designated area in order or wiping a lunch table. Holding a rose, she explains that when a child is upset with another in the classroom or on the Natural Playground, one child approaches the other with the “peace rose.” The one holding the rose speaks, the other listens. The rose changes hands as children learn to solve problems on their own.
“The basic building blocks of a Walnut Park Montessori education,” says Fico,” instill joyful learning and excitement for learning in a peaceful, respectful environment,” a journey designed to free children to explore, discover, and learn.